Ever since she was a girl growing up in Cyprus, Chrystalla Petropoulou says she dreamed of becoming a nun in the Greek Orthodox Church.
It never happened for a number of reasons - a lack of monasteries to study in, her family's move to England and then the United States, taking care of her elderly parents.
Now, at the age of 92, the wheelchair-bound Mattituck resident is finally realizing her dream. Yesterday she officially became a nun at a new monastery in Calverton, which she helped build so she could move in and devote herself to God.
"What should I say, I'm happy," she said this week in Greek, speaking through an interpreter. Her relatives are thrilled, too, she added. "They knew I wanted to be a nun from the day I were born."
A group of four other women, all in their 20s, who recently moved into the All Saints Greek Orthodox Monastery aspiring to become nuns, have agreed to take care of Petropoulou in her final years. The monastery is the first one on Long Island officially recognized by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and one of about 20 in the United States.
"I think it is beautiful. I am happy for her," said Elizabeth Brandenburg, 28, a native of St. Louis who also officially became a nun at the monastery yesterday. "She offers a lot, just her example of being patient, waiting and trusting in God. She shows us the Christian life."
Petropoulou, Brandenburg and Maria Kallis, 27, of Detroit, all became nuns yesterday. Two others are expected soon.
At the ceremony, the three women received new names they will use as religious sisters and were given their black dresses known as habits. Also, a bit of hair was snipped from the back of each nun's head, as well as from both sides - a ritual that roughly forms the shape of the cross.
The sisters will live a monastic life, meaning their days and nights will revolve around prayer. They pray every three hours around the clock, including at midnight and 3 a.m. Because of her age, Petropoulou will not be required to attend the late night prayer sessions, though her colleagues say she is often up anyway.
The monastery, located on an 8-acre property surrounded by horse farms, was built through a community effort led by Petropoulou, her relatives and the area's Greek Orthodox population. Fundraising started in 1997 when Petropoulou, a longtime seamstress, deposited $13 in a special bank account, said the Rev. Vaselios Govits, former pastor at the Transfiguration of Christ Greek Orthodox Church in Mattituck.
She later donated thousands of dollars, as did some of her relatives and one anonymous donor who gave $125,000, Govits said. The project cost about $500,000. The group still owes about $145,000 in loans.
The monastery was completed in late 2005, and by the following May, Govits started holding Sunday services there. All the monastery lacked were aspiring nuns to occupy it. Petropoulou was too old and sickly to go alone.
Brandenburg and some friends she had studied with at a Greek Orthodox school of theology outside Boston who wanted to become nuns heard about the monastery, and agreed to come. They arrived last August, met Petropoulou, and - once they heard her story - offered to have her come live with them and fulfill her dream. She moved in last October.
Petropoulou never married and has no children. She said that, despite declining health and a frugal lifestyle, she is where she wants to be in her twilight years. "I don't care about doctors, I don't care about medicine," she said. "I just want to die at the monastery."